|Photo - OSJ staff file|
CHARLESTON, SC. — In the first match of their final USL PRO season, Orlando City SC drew the Charleston Battery 1-1 at Blackbaud Stadium. After conceding in the second half, City equalized in the 75th minute when new signing Austin Da Luz scored his first goal in purple and white.
The opening USL PRO match featured two of the league’s powerhouse teams, as both sides have claimed the past four USL PRO Championships.
Coming into today’s match, City has had the upper-hand against Charleston with the Lions’ boasting an 8-1-2 all-time record against the Battery. Most recently, Orlando defeated the Battery twice in three matches in 2013, including a win in the USL PRO semi-finals.
However, in the 2014 season-opener, the home-side began on the strong-foot and caused City to make numerous nervous clearances. Charleston’s chances came within the first five minutes, but Miguel Gallardo’s quality saves brought reassurance to the City backline.
After a turbulent start to the match, Orlando began settling in, and their possessive style of play became evident. By holding on to the ball, City controlled the tempo and forced Charleston to chase with heavy numbers in behind the ball.
Orlando City’s first chance of the match would come in the 11th minute when Austin Da Luz was found on the left-side of the area and drilled a low effort that was destined for the back of the net. Unfortunately for City, veteran Defender John Wilson managed to make a last-minute clearance from the goal-line to keep the match level.
New signing, Aodhan Quinn was given the nod from Head Coach Adrian Heath for his professional debut and had a good opportunity to put the Lions ahead in the 22nd minute. Orlando was awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position, just outside the Battery’s area, but Quinn placed his effort just over the bar.
The best chance of the half came in the 43rd minute, after an impressive build-up from the Lions. After a strong-challenge from Defender Justin Clark, City coordinated a calculated counter-attack that featured several one-twos and allowed Molino to find space in the final third.
Molino’s final effort forced Odisnel Cooper to parry it over the bar, providing an encouraging sign. in a first half that didn’t feature many clear-cut chances. The 0-0 score-line at halftime was a fair a reflection of the first 45, as neither side was able to create very many dangerous efforts on target.
The second half began with a much different tone, as Midfielder Darwin Ceren hit a cracking effort that skipped within inches of the post. In his USL PRO debut, the El Salvadorian National Team Captain was relatively quiet in the opening half but looked threatening with his first chance of the match.
Ceren was involved once again in the attacking third for Orlando in the 55th minute. After a poor clearance from the Battery, the ball landed back out to Ceren who skipped past Wilson and floated a lovely ball into Yordany Alvarez, whose header was saved by Cooper.
Moments later, Hertzog got his first good look of the game and nearly capitalized on an error from the Charleston backline. Known as a poacher, the former Vancouver Whitecaps Striker got in behind the defense and hit a strong effort that went just over the bar.
Nevertheless, the Battery continued to cushion Orlando’s heavy numbers and employ their pace up front for their counter-attacking tactics, leading to the first goal of the match.
Mamadou Diouf, who was brought on by Battery Head Coach Mike Anhauser in 58th minute, was released on the left-hand-side and took advantage of the lack of City defenders.
The speedy midfielder cut inside the area and snuck his effort past Gallardo at the near-post, putting Charleston up 1-0 in the 65th minute.
In light of the Battery’s goal, the numerous supporters who travelled to South Carolina for the opening match began singing even louder, motivating the Lions to push forward in search of a goal.
The Lions’ fans would get their wish when Da Luz pounced on a loose ball inside the area placed his strike past Cooper for the equalizer in the 75th minute.
Orlando made no effort to settle for a draw though, as Heath brought on attacking Midfielder Adama Mbengue and Forward Dennis Chin to provide more firepower up front.
Charleston, on the other hand, began dropping deeper in an attempt to secure at least a point. City continued to probe and found several chances from crosses into the box, but the Battery’s progression deeper into their half made it difficult to break-through and find a winner.
The Lions will now return back to Orlando to play their USL PRO home-opener against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at City’s 2014 stadium at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
In 2013, City squared up against the Riverhounds three times and held a 1-1-1 record, with their only victory coming in the USL PRO playoffs at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
— Press release via Jhamie Chin / Orlando City SC